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Sentiments range from frustration to separation at Fair Deal Panel stop in Calgary


Calgarians gathered inside a northeast conference centre Tuesday night to share their thoughts on how to get a fair deal for Alberta within Canada.

Tuesday marked the third of 10 stops for the MLAs, former public servants and conservative leaders dubbed the Fair Deal Panel, tasked by Premier Jason Kenney’s government to engage Albertans on how to give the province a larger voice in Confederation and advance its economic interests, among other potential points of action.

Among the dozens of speakers in the crowd of about 400 were those who expressed full support for Alberta separating from Canada, some who claimed the Fair Deal Panel is nothing more than a waste of taxpayer dollars, and others who support a provincial police force.

“I do not think we need to explore what a fair deal for Alberta looks like. I do not think that there’s a need for this commission, which I think was created at the expense of Alberta taxpayers,” said Liam O’Gorman. “This panel is a disingenuous attempt to consult Albertans about a topic that is far too complex for this type of forum.”

Another speaker, Peter McCaffery, president of the Alberta Institute, said he wanted to see the province take action.

“Is Alberta getting a fair deal? No. What should they do? Whatever they can, as fast as they can,” he said. “There was a similar panel held 16 years ago. We can’t wait another 16 years, we need action now.

“We need an equal Senate in the house, we need all votes across the country to be counted equally. We should collect our own taxes in Alberta. We should have an Alberta pension plan, EI (employment insurance) and police force.”

Miranda Rosin, MLA for Banff-Kananaskis and a member of the panel, said she was encouraged by those who stepped up to speak at the event.

“I think it’s been going tremendously . . . We’ve really been getting a lot of genuinely honest feedback from both sides of the fence,” she said. “And I think that’s exactly what we need to hear because we need to make sure we are guiding policy that the province actually wants and not just living in an echo chamber.

“We’ve heard people be vulnerable, they’ve shared their stories (and) they’ve shared their opinions — no matter how much they feel it may conflict with others.”

When the panel was announced in November , Kenney said a number of recommendations — including a referendum on federal equalization payments, establishing a provincial police force and withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan — were already being considered.

The same day the panel met in Calgary, Kenney and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Ottawa , with both describing their meeting as a “frank and realistic discussion.”

But after the meeting, Kenney said the next few weeks will be a critical time for Trudeau to prove it’s not just talk and that the Liberals are serious about addressing critical issues in this province.

Next week, federal and provincial finance ministers will meet. On the table are reforms to a federal “fiscal stabilization” program that tops up provincial revenues in the face of sudden shocks, a program all the premiers say needs to be amended.

Kenney said Monday that while federal-provincial relations have been tense, he wants to find common ground with the Trudeau government.

He pointed to last week’s meeting of provincial and territorial premiers , and the consensus they arrived at on issues including pipelines and federal funding, as proof there is room for Trudeau to harness existing goodwill.

The Fair Deal panel has seven stops remaining — they head to Lethbridge and Grande Prairie before breaking for the holidays. In the new year, they will visit Fort McMurray, Fort Saskatchewan, Lloydminster, Airdrie and Medicine Hat.

— With files by The Canadian Press

zlaing@postmedia.com

Twitter: @zjlaing

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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